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The San Diego Regional Center funds Noah Homes based on a flat rate (per client), negotiated based on a level-two or level-three classification of the client. The former requires one staff member per six residents to assist with daily living, and the latter requires one staff to every four residents. According to Nocon, the current rate for a level-three works out to approximately $3 an hour for round-the-clock-care.

“We have had a rate freeze since 2003,” she says. “The other thing Sacramento’s done to try to cut costs is put a freeze across the board for any increases in cost care, such as being able to move a level-two house to a level-three. So if someone has lived in that house for 15 years, and there are six of them, and they’ve all aged 15 years, then now their needs are probably level-three.”

In that case, Nocon’s options for the care of these six hypothetical residents would be to send them to a level-three facility with a vacancy elsewhere, and the state would pay for their care in the new facility; or she could build a brand new level-three facility, and the state would fund the care of the residents there.

“But they won’t raise the level of existing care because they’re, I quote, ‘saving money,’” she says. “So I have to take them out of their house, take them out of where they’ve known as home for 15 years, and send them someplace else to get more care.”

Besides the logistics and the stress of moving, the getting-to-know-you process with a brand new group of caregivers has the potential to diminish the residents’ quality of life. Nocon gives the example of one of her residents, a woman named Liz who has cerebral palsy. Nocon shapes her hands into the symbol that Liz uses to let staff know that she needs to use the bathroom. It’s an obscure symbol, one particular to Liz.

“They’re not going to know that because they haven’t had her for 20 years like we have,” Nocon says. “If you don’t know this [symbol], then she pees, and you put her in a diaper.”

Diapering, Nocon says, is one of the three D’s that happen when her residents end up in nursing homes.

“They don’t know our population, so they diaper them, they drug them, and they die. Statistics show that anybody in our population that goes to a nursing home dies within six months in most cases.”

Lick It Up

Rewind to the day before the dance during my tour of the campus with Nocon. Somehow, I misinterpreted the two glass cabinets in the lobby (stuffed with Noah’s Ark figurines in ceramic, glass, wood, and more) as kitschy, merely a play on the name Noah. And at this point, I have not yet looked through the copies of Noah Navigator (each of which is full of biblical references) that Nocon handed me on entering her office. So when I strategically (and mistakenly) dispense with formality and ask if, given that the houses are co-ed, any of the residents “hook up,” Nocon stiffens and informs me that Noah Homes is a faith-based organization. Although this doesn’t answer my question, I’m sufficiently embarrassed and do not probe into either her statement that, yes, platonic relationships develop but are nothing to worry about (not usually anyway), or her explanation that by faith-based, she means all faiths are welcome, but nothing is forced.

Five minutes later, when I meet Patrick for the first time, both my embarrassment and my need to probe diminish significantly. I figure that if no one has forced Patrick to remove all the Kiss memorabilia from his room, then it can’t be all that restrictive. If it is, then Patrick is bucking the system far worse than I did with my ridiculous use of the term “hook up.”

Patrick’s single room in Casa de Caridad is decorated floor to ceiling with Kiss posters, Kiss key chains, and Kiss figurines, some of which are three-feet-high and play the band’s more popular songs at the push of a button. One of the posters shows the cover of the band’s eleventh album, with the title, Lick it Up, front and center. On the bed, a teddy bear dressed in a Chargers jersey and an episode of the 1980s sitcom Full House paused on the TV add sweet and incongruous touches to the rock and roll décor. After shaking my hand with the firmness and efficiency of a company president, Patrick shows me his latest Kiss finds.

“Cups, a chips bowl,” he says, pointing out mugs and a large bowl adorned with the devilishly dressed men. The chips bowl is one of those with an attached container for dip. A Kiss jack-in-the-box sits on the shelf, and Nocon informs me that Patrick also has a Kiss costume he wears for Halloween and other dress-up occasions.

When he points out a large photo of himself with Gene “The Demon” Simmons, he and Nocon argue about when the photo was taken.

“Wasn’t that about two months ago?” Nocon asks.

“No, five months,” Patrick says.

“It wasn’t five months was it?” she says. “Wasn’t it around Christmas time?”

“No, September,” he says.

Turns out Patrick’s right. And when Nocon asks him to tell me where he works and how long he’s worked there, he speaks quickly and with his hands on his hips, as if he’ll tolerate our questions for only a moment or two more.

“Vons and McDonald’s,” he says. “[Since] ’87, McDonald’s, and [since] ’95, Vons.”

Like Patrick, all of the residents at Noah Homes spend their days out in the local San Diego community, working or participating in programs through St. Madeline Sophie’s Center in El Cajon where they take art, communication, or computer classes. Some residents hold jobs at places such as Lakeside Nursery, Albertsons, and Pizza Hut. Others perform contract labor putting together Cox cable kits or packaging mobile phones. Noah Homes owns 16 vehicles and a bus, which they use to transport residents to their jobs, classes, Padres and Chargers games, SeaWorld, and as far away as Disneyland and Las Vegas.

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Comments

Susan Luzzaro April 2, 2014 @ 3:49 p.m.

Great job Elizabeth--very readable but you still pack a lot of information into the story. In the prolonged recession we are living in, people with disabilities have experienced so many cutbacks.

1

Elizabeth Salaam April 2, 2014 @ 9:05 p.m.

Thank you so much, Susan. Writing this one opened my eyes to so much.

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